Now retired but still very much involved with ICAEW, Mike Ranson, current Chair of the ICAEW Disciplinary Committee, has always enjoyed creating home-made marmalade. Creating preserves is a skill he learnt from his father, making full use of all the fruit growing in the garden. “I picked up a few tips from him,” he says.
Mike has always been happy to give away a few jars of his latest creations and, such is the standard, friends and family often ask if he’s planning on making any more. So when he heard about the Dalemain Marmalade Festival and the World’s Original Marmalade Awards, he decided to test his preserves on a potentially more critical audience. “I’ve entered three or four times, but have only won silver until now – one year I missed gold by one point, which was a bit frustrating. But I decided to keep going.”
This year was different: he received a phone call from festival organiser Jane Hasell-McCosh, telling him his Seville Orange & Cider Marmalade with Calvados had not only won gold in his category (Man Made Marmalade), but also Best in Show, out of more than 3,000 entries. “I just couldn’t believe it, it was astonishing.”
And then the ball started rolling: “I was sworn to secrecy – individual category winners are notified in advance that they’ve won, but only the overall winner knows that they’ve won [the top prize]. It was all rather cloak and dagger,” says Mike.
His prize? The Gilt Cup, presented at the festival by Laurence Olins, Master of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers, patrons of the Marmalade Awards, and for his winning marmalade to go into production for a year and be sold at Dalemain Mansion in Cumbria and at Fortnum & Mason.
Commercial production of Mike’s marmalade is handled by Thursday Cottage, which makes preserves in traditional small open pans and then hand fills the glass jars. “I didn’t just send them a list of ingredients,” says Mike. “I went a bit into what I do and how I do it. They made a sample jar, which was sent to me and Jane. It took a couple of attempts to get it just right, but it was all on schedule for my marmalade to be available from the day the award was made. All in secrecy.”
Apparently, Mike’s marmalade is selling like hot cakes, if that’s not too much of a mixed metaphor, and it’s making a positive charitable contribution too. For every jar sold at Fortnum & Mason, 50p goes to Hospice at Home Carlisle and North Lakeland, while for every jar sold via Dalemain 50p goes to Mike’s nominated charity, the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA). “It’s a cause close to my heart,” he says. “My father died from MND, and I’ve been involved with the MNDA for quite a long time. I was a trustee for six years, and was honorary treasurer. The work they’re doing that’s of huge value is on the research side, trying to find a cure for MND.”
Being methodical is as key to making good preserves as it is to accountancy, it seems. “As an accountant, I’ve got used to sticking to rules and doing things in a certain way. So I always follow my recipe and don’t take any risks, but I try to enhance it in some way. This year I used Seville oranges and apple cider, without water; the Calvados seemed a natural addition for that bit of extra zing. It obviously worked.
“I see marmalade making as a bit of an art. It’s all a matter of using your eye and obviously your sense of smell and taste and trying to get it right every time. It’s too easy to cook it for too long or not long enough so it doesn’t set. I’m also very careful with the ingredients. For example, the oranges for my winning marmalade are carefully selected from the Grainger Market in Newcastle. I think that sort of thing makes a difference.”
So would a marmalade sandwich made using Mike’s creation go down well with Paddington and the Queen? “I’d like to think so.”
- Mike Ranson is currently Chair of the ICAEW Disciplinary Committee; his past involvement with ICAEW has included being President of the Northern Society in 2009/10 and before that a member of BCAB (now defunct) and the Research Board. He was a magistrate for over 30 years, chairing the Newcastle Bench, and was Chair of the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee for the City for several years.
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